BBC ‘dignified death’ drama coincides with MPs’ debate

Pro-life groups have protested at the screening of a “one-sided” drama about assisted suicide which was shown by the BBC the night before MPs debated the issue.

A Short Stay In Switzerland is based on a true story and featured actress Julie Walters in the role of retired doctor, Anne Turner.

Dr Turner, who suffered from Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), a degenerative condition, committed suicide at the Swiss Dignitas clinic in 2006.

Dr Turner allowed her death to be used as part of a campaign to legalise assisted suicide in the UK. She is described by Mrs Walters as “an intelligent, informed and articulate woman. It was a courageous act.”

But John Smeaton of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children points out that the courage of actor, comedian and classical pianist Dudley Moore, who struggled with PSP for eight years, is not mentioned in the film.

Mr Smeaton writes: “It looks set to be the viewer’s loss to be given only a one-sided look at what possible responses are available for those who experience disabling conditions and their families.”

Jane Hardy, Chief Executive of the PSP Association, said she was “saddened” that the condition was being publicised in the context of assisted suicide.

She said: “PSP should be known of in its own right. As a charity we certainly do not advocate assisted suicide.

“Our goals are to make sure there is care and support and to talk to the Government to encourage investment in research.

“I would hope more of the public would know about PSP now, that is one positive. I am greatly concerned about the impact on vulnerable people as it was harrowing in some places.”

Dr Peter Saunders, of the Care Not Killing alliance, criticised the timing of the film, which coincided with a Commons debate on the new Coroners and Justice Bill.

The Bill contains clauses relating to assisted suicide, and could be used as an opportunity to weaken the current law.

Dr Saunders said: “These things are carefully orchestrated to have the maximum impact on public debate.”

The BBC denies that the scheduling was deliberate.

The sympathetic portrayal of Dr Turner’s death is also at odds with the testimony of former Dignitas nurse, Soraya Wernli.

In a recent interview Mrs Wernli spoke of the hasty manner in which patients seeking assisted suicide were dealt with by the clinic’s boss, Ludwig Minelli.

“I argued that it wasn’t right that people land at the airport, are ferried to his office, have their requisite half-an-hour with a doctor, get the barbiturates they need and are sent off to die,” she said.

“This is the biggest step anyone will ever take. They should at least be allowed to stay overnight, to think about what they are doing. But Minelli would have none of it”.

Last month the BBC screened a documentary in favour of assisted suicide fronted by an MSP seeking to change the law in Scotland.

Margo MacDonald, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and wants help to end her own life if her condition deteriorates, used the 30 minute Panorama programme to present her arguments in favour of legalised assisted suicide.

In October, the BBC’s Today Programme was criticised for holding a ‘debate’ on euthanasia in which a controversial proponent from Australia, dubbed ‘Dr Death’, was invited to discuss the issue with a representative from a leading pro-euthanasia group in the UK.

As The Christian Institute reported at the time, the result was effectively a seven-minute trailer for the euthanasia cause.